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POLICY REPORT NO. 5

The Puzzle of the BJP's Muslim Supporters in Gujarat

This report examines an extant political phenomenon in the State of Gujarat: the support of Muslims for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that many Muslims perceive as responsible for the brutal violence in the State in 2002 when at least a thousand Muslims were killed. Findings and implications presented in this report are based on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork—in periods spanning three elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014—and an analysis of 101 polling booths in Ahmedabad city. Public support of Muslims for the BJP surged in the period 2010 to 2012. However, ecological inferences drawn from polling booth analysis raise the strong possibility that the public support did not translate into electoral support for the party in the 2012 State elections. A plausible explanation of such contradictory behaviour lies in the dependence of voters on state patronage of incumbent governments and in the expressive dissonance produced in absence of a space for dissent. In the period prior to the 2014 elections, public support for the BJP among Muslims had marginally reduced, perceived by Muslims as a sign of the BJP reneging on prior promises.

This report examines an extant political phenomenon in the State of Gujarat: the support of Muslims for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that many Muslims perceive as responsible for the brutal violence in the State in 2002 when at least a thousand Muslims were killed. Findings and implications presented in this report are based on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork—in periods spanning three elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014—and an analysis of 101 polling booths in Ahmedabad city. Public support of Muslims for the BJP surged in the period 2010 to 2012. However, ecological inferences drawn from polling booth analysis raise the strong possibility that the public support did not translate into electoral support for the party in the 2012 State elections. A plausible explanation of such contradictory behaviour lies in the dependence of voters on state patronage of incumbent governments and in the expressive dissonance produced in absence of a space for dissent. In the period prior to the 2014 elections, public support for the BJP among Muslims had marginally reduced, perceived by Muslims as a sign of the BJP reneging on prior promises. By implication, remedial measures should aim to deepen the democratic system through transparent mechanisms of voter-politician interface that reduce dependence on state patronage and provide greater autonomy to legal institutions, strengthening trustworthiness.

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